A Sapling Branch
"It's nothing personal," Maya said with a shrug of her shoulders as she swung a twig in a high arc. "It's just something new. You should be excited for me, if you even can."
That was unfair, Archie thought. Stoic though he was, Archie was capable of being excited for a great many things - the smell of new leather shoes and borovan flavored ice cream, to name a few. Certainly he wasn't as... expressive as his sister, but that was hardly a character flaw. If anything, Archie thought that Maya could learn a few things from him, but that wasn't a conversation he planned on bringing up anytime soon. Or ever.
"It's hard to keep being excited for you when you won't ever talk about anything else," Archie muttered. "Besides, when was the last time you were excited for me?"
"Pish posh, Archie," Maya scolded lightly as she lifted the twig high in the air as she moved to stand on one foot. Her tail started swinging wildly left and right as she tried to maintain balance, and Archie took a few steps back as he skeptically watched on. "I'd be excited for you if you ever did anything exciting."
Recently, Archie had been inclined to believe that Maya found everything in the world a little too exciting - unless it was something Archie expressed interest in, and then it would be the dullest thing in Neopia. So he preferred reading a book in Roo Island to touring the volcano on Mystery Island, but what was the big deal? He wasn't the one who panicked for the remainder of their vacation that she'd begged for, over a fortune from the Island Mystic about being attacked by a pack of flying mashed potatoes.
"Are you sulking again?" Maya asked, her back turned towards him as she practiced her pivot. "You know I find your sulking very distracting."
"I wasn't sulking, Maya," Archie sighed. "I think you just find any sort of silence distracting, but the rest of us like it, you know."
Maya scoffed in response. "Whatever," she said, waving his comment away. "You were more fun when we were little."
Archie didn't remember it, but his owner had always said that she'd walked by the pound one day and found the two of them as babies in the corner of the adoption center, cuddling each other and watching the world pass by with wide eyes. She hadn't been planning on adopting any Neopets that day, she said - in fact, she had been on her way to the Create-A-Neopet center, but fate had clearly pointed her in a different direction. He and Maya were two Super Attack Peas in a Super Attack Pod from the start, she always continued to say, and they were inseparable for years. But as far as he could remember, it was always him and Maya and their owner in their small Neopian Central neohome, and they were his family - and though sometimes Maya made it hard, he'd never wish that Maya were back at the pound.
But he did wish that she would sometimes, you know, listen instead of just talk.
"I was always this way," Archie said defensively.
"Nuh-uh," Maya returned. She jumped into the air and smashed her stick with both hands against the ground, where it broke in half. "Aw, bummer." She tossed the stick aside and started crawling on all fours, peering at the ground. "Help me find a new sword, Archie."
"Why am I always the one that has to help you?" Archie complained, at loathe to get up and start sniffing the ground for a good stick to play swords with. He was perfectly comfortable sitting underneath the shade of their balcony, thank you very much. Not that Maya particularly seemed to care.
Maya rolled her eyes. "Because," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "you never ask for my help."
That stopped Archie's thoughts in their tracks. Their whole conversation had begun when Archie had complained about how recently, Maya only seemed to be capable of either playing Neoquest, or talking about Neoquest. But he'd never really asked for her to do anything, other than to stop being herself - which Maya was utterly incapable of doing.
Maybe some of his recent bitterness was self-inflicted - that he always prodded around his feelings, but never confronted them head on. Why was he so upset that Maya had been talking about Neoquest so much lately? She'd always been one to invest heavily into whatever passion spurred her interest at any fleeting moment. Archie knew this. And she had always been painfully blunt and outspoken, bordering on insensitive, about whatever it was she cared about in her world. Archie knew this. So why did it bother him so much this time?
"Are you helping me yet?" Maya shouted at him impatiently from the far side of the yard. She'd disappeared behind some trees a few moments ago in her hunt. "You're better than me at finding good sticks."
"Would it kill you to say please, at least?" Archie said, but there was no anger behind his tone. It was hard to feel any kind of resentment so shortly after an emotional revelation, Archie thought, pushing himself up to help his sister scour the grasses.
Maybe, Archie continued in his train of thinking, he'd been so upset with Maya lately because this time, he'd felt... left out. He hadn't minded when Maya prattled on about preening for a Beauty Contest that one week, or when she lectured him about poker strategies until she lost her entire month's allowance in one game at the Round Table Poker. But this time it felt more real in a way that Archie couldn't fully qualify, almost as if he were being left behind from Maya's next adventure in life.
And he didn't want to be left behind, Archie realized. He wanted to be there for his sister so that she had someone to find good sticks for her, and he wanted her to be there for him, too.
Archie's eyes suddenly landed on a particularly promising branch, as if the world were waiting for him to make such a realization before presenting him with what he was looking for. A reward for the two of them, together, from the forces of the universe - a gift for him to give to his sister.
"Here's your stick," Archie called out, holding out a perfectly good sword imitation. It even had a few twigs springing out at one end that resembled a bit like a hilt.
Maya let out an excited squeal as she pranced over, snatching it from his hands. "Thanks," she said, beaming.
Archie took a deep breath and summoned his bravery. "I'm jealous that you get to play Neoquest while our owner doesn't have a game going with me."
"Well then, sounds like you should start your game," Maya pointed out.
"Maybe I will," Archie agreed.
It felt good, he thought, to finally realize what he wanted and to be able to speak it aloud. It almost made Archie feel like a proper grown-up.
"I can teach you everything I've learned so far, so you can catch up," Maya said nonchalantly, already back to swinging the stick that Archie had found - before a thought suddenly crossed her mind and she swung it in Archie's direction, pointing it directly at him. "But I'm still going to better than you," she warned, "so don't get any ideas about practicing in secret."
Sometimes, Maya made being a family hard.
His sister began to turn back into her practice, but she paused for a moment to shoot a sly smile at him. "See?" she said teasingly. "I knew you could be exciting."
But this wasn't one of those times.
And Archie would never, ever trade his hodge-podge family for anything.